15 July, 2010

PM's visit linked to forest deal

Sue Neales
The Mercury (article), July 15, 2010

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard is expected to fly into northern Tasmania tomorrow ahead of an expected announcement on Saturday of a late August election.

But it is not yet certain whether Ms Gillard will use her rushed visit to the marginal electorates of Bass and Braddon to announce a breakthrough in the decades-old and divisive Tasmanian forest conflict.

Last night forest industry insiders were denying a deal had been reached with environmentalists to end all logging of Tasmania's high-conservation native forests.

Federal Forestry Minister Tony Burke is in Tasmania and will address the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association national conference in Launceston today.

But a spokesman for Mr Burke denied the Gillard Government was ready to announce a peace pact or breakthrough affecting Tasmania's forests.

Before going to the polls the Prime Minister is keen to announce a sweeping "climate statement" addressing voter concerns about the Federal Government's commitment to tackle climate change.

Any deal to end all native forest logging in southern Australia, accompanied by an industry restructuring package and a switch to a plantation-only timber industry, would be part of the environmental or climate policy pitch.

The Federal Government has previously indicated to the stricken forest industry that Commonwealth funds are available to encourage some native forest loggers and contractors to leave the industry.

But talks appear to be stymied by debate between industry groups about how quickly and completely logging should cease in all state-owned native forests.

While an immediate end to felling high-conservation native forests appears certain, the speed with which a transition out of all native forests can be completed lies at the heart of last-minute negotiations.

It is understood the industry is also keen to get concessions from environmentalists to allow the $2.2 billion Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley to proceed, but using only plantation timber.

Tasmanian Forestry Minister Bryan Green said he was not aware of any visit to northern Tasmania by the Prime Minister tomorrow.


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